Out of the thousands of places to go, things to do, and experiences to have throughout the United States, a lot of them cost quite a bit of money. In many places, $500 won’t get you too far—maybe a couple of nights in a nice hotel, a few great meals, and a show or two. However, much of the country can be well-explored on an extremely small budget. With the sheer diversity throughout the country, it may be difficult to hone down on where exactly you want to go. That’s where this list comes in handy.
For this list, we’ve gathered up a range of locations from cities to parks and from all over the country. The first ten entries in the list are towns and cities that are able to provide a unique adventure that can be done on a small budget. The next five entries focus on our National Parks. After that, there are miscellaneous spots across the country that are unlike anywhere else in the world ranging from locales in New York City to rural Wisconsin.
25 Yosemite - Natural Beauty As Far As You Can See
Yosemite is the most famous natural park in the United States and encompasses over a million square miles in Central California. This UNESCO World Heritage Site gets an average of over 4,000,000 visitors a year, making it one of the most popular attractions in the country.
The Tunnel View (shown above) is generally the first sight most people see entering the park and El Capitan remains one of the most popular rock climbing spots in the world.
24 Sequoia National Park - Home of the world's largest tree
Also located in Central California, the Sequoia National Park and Yosemite would make for a great two-part vacation. Another similarity that the two parks have in common is a variety of world-famous sights, this time Mount Whitney—the highest point in the United States—and the General Sherman Tree—the largest tree in the world.
Any road trip through California would benefit from a visit to this one-of-a-kind national park. Feel free to visit their website to find out pricing and information on current conditions.
23 Washington D.C. - The Capital Doesn't Have To Be That Expensive
There are several cities on this list that can certainly be quite expensive, but can also be easily handled on a budget. While you can certainly drop a ton of money in this Michelin city, you can also get by for fairly cheap.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of famous sights to see in the city for free, such as the National Mall and Washington Monument. D.C. is also home to several of the best museums in the country such as the National Air and Space Museum and the Museum of Natural History.
22 Niagara Falls - The New York Side, Of Course
While you're in New York visiting the Finger Lakes, consider a brief drive up to the NY side of Niagara Falls. While the Canadian side might be the more popular destination, all of the beauty and awe of the falls can be seen on the New York end as well.
There are plenty of things to explore like the Cave of the Winds, an aquarium, and the Maid of the Mist ride through the waters.
21 Central Park, NYC - A green oasis in a concrete jungle
This gem lies in the heart of New York City, and is completely free to enter. This park attracts around 40 million visitors every year and takes up 843 acres right in the middle of the city. The park has extremely well-documented lists of flora and fauna and boasts dozens of visitor’s attractions including sculptures, statues, theaters, and castles.
If you need a break from the city (especially the prices) then Central Park is the ideal getaway in the center of it all.
20 Harbor Town, SC - The Ideal Harbor Getaway
You'll find over the course of this list that some of the best cities and towns throughout the United States that can be managed with relatively little money. Harbor Town in South Carolina one of those, and it's a small town no doubt.
Located on Hilton Head Island, this small town is the perfect getaway for a relaxing vacation with the family. Most famous for its candy stripe lighthouse, this town is home to a yacht club and luxurious golf courses, sure, but there are also plenty of restaurants and shops that will make for a pleasant trip to the Carolina Coast.
19 Williamsburg, VA - A Look Back In History
Anyone with even a passing interest in US history is sure to know about Colonial Williamsburg. This is a town meant to capture what the beginning of the U.S. looked and felt like in the 18thcentury. From museums to colonial-inspired food, almost everything in this town allows you to experience the colonial lifestyle.
For about $40 for an adult or $20 for a kid, you can get a single-day ticket that allows you to visit all of the attractions at Colonial Williamsburg. Check their website to look for deals and different packages.
18 Gatlinburg, TN - Small Town, Big View
Gatlinburg is a small town in the middle of the Smoky Mountains that offers some of the best views that the South has to offer. While the Smoky Mountains National Park is clearly a highlight of the visit, there are also a variety of registered historical sites like the Settlement School Community Outreach Historic District.
In the actual town, there are several well-known tourist attractions like the Ripley’s museums and the Ober Gatlinburg aerial tram that takes visitors up the top of the mountain.
17 Indianapolis, IN - Crossroads City
The Midwest sits at the crossroads of America, but also the crossroads of great and affordable. Indianapolis is a very cheap city to visit and has become quite a destination over the last decade or so. Both the Indianapolis Zoo and Children’s Museum are some of the best in the world. The Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument (pictured above) is one of the most famous sites in the city and is free to visit. It has also quickly become one of the best places for craft beer, with over a dozen reputable breweries.
16 Cincinnati, OH - Some Of Kentucky, Too
Another cheap Midwestern city, Cincinnati, is my personal favorite of the three major Ohio cities. This small city hosts some truly great restaurants (offering many vegetarian and vegan options worth a trip as well) along with a good number of bars and coffee shops.
There are also several great East and Southeast Asian restaurants in a neighborhood located just near the University. Just across the river lies Kentucky and some beautiful small towns up and down the hills.
15 Detroit, MI - Ruins Worth A Visit
I will argue wholeheartedly that Detroit is the most underrated city in America. While this place has gone through some especially tough times lately, the unique identity of the city has led many to move to (or back to) the city to work on growth and rebuilding. Because of the economic hardships, Detroit is an especially cheap city to visit.
You can certainly find some great food and see a few games for not a lot of money. On top of that, there are neighborhoods of abandoned homes and factories that have taken on the name “The Ruins of Detroit” and they are truly a sight to see.
14 Nashville, TN - Honkeytonk Town
If you have any interest in Country music, then Nashville is the cheap travel destination for you. Home of both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry, this city lives and breathes music. Even if Country isn’t your cup of tea, the scenes for jazz, rock, and blues are all very much major players in the town.
Add to all of this a full-size replica of the Greek Parthenon, and you’ve got a great city to visit.
13 San Antonio, TX - More Than Just The Alamo
San Antonio, sitting at just about an hour and a half North of the U.S.-Mexico border, is one of many great cities across this massive state. Probably the most famous site in this city, The Alamo attracts millions of visitors every year, but that’s certainly not all there is.
The roughly 30 million tourists that visit this city every year have nothing but options with great food and beautiful sights everywhere you go. The 13-mile long River Walk snakes through many of the best sights making it an especially easy walking city as well.
12 Seattle, WA - Nearby nature awaits
Many of the cheaper cities worth a visit are sprinkled throughout the South and Midwest, but for those of you living on the West Coast, there are several good options as well. Another generally expensive city, Seattle, can also be explored for fairly cheap.
Well-known for breweries and coffee shops, this place also offers great options for food with some of the best ramen and sushi restaurants in the country at an affordable price range. And of course, Washington state is home to mountains, lakes, rivers, and more, just outside of the city's limits.
11 Grand Prismatic Spring - Yeah, The Colors Are Real
The country is full of some of the best natural parks in the world and the next few selections in this list show some of the best these parks have to offer. Yellowstone National Park has several famous landmarks including the Grand Prismatic Spring. This is the largest hot spring in the country and only the third largest in the world.
The distinct coloration comes from microbial mats around the springs of the mineralized water and changes throughout the year. While it always stays blue in the center, the other colors can range from red to orange, yellow and green.
10 The Badlands - Valleys And Prairies
My personal favorite national park in the country lies in South Dakota. The Badlands are a collection of buttes and pinnacles that show millions of years of erosion in the changing colors. This range also lies in the middle of one of the biggest undisturbed grass prairies in the world, with dozens of species you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the country.
For just $20, you can drive through and camp in The Badlands to your heart’s desire.
9 Glacier National Park - The Beauty of Montana
The last major National Park on this list lies in Montana. Glacier National Park offers some of the most beautiful nature Montana has to offer. There are over 700 miles of trails across the park that range through mountains, lakes, meadows, and forests.
The hiking in this park offers some of the best trails in the country, but if you’re not into hiking, then the Going-to-the-Sun Road will offer some of the best driving you’ll ever find.
8 Oregon Coast - The Best Of The West Coast
Speaking of amazing driving roads, the entire West Coast has plenty to offer. Driving down the entire coast has been one of the greatest travel experiences of my life and there is nothing quite like the Oregon Coast.
If foggy, rainy, and 65 degrees seems up your alley, then this is the perfect cheap road trip for you. All across the way are small fishing towns and scenic views and no matter where you stop, you’ll find plenty to enjoy, the entire way down.
7 Finger Lakes - get the camera ready
Eleven long, narrow lakes are located near one another between Rochester, Ithaca, and Syracuse in upstate New York. These obviously got their names from their slender layouts. There are several colleges that make their home around the lakes such as Cornell University, most of which have beautiful campuses that cost absolutely nothing to visit.
There are also a variety of historically important locations in the region like several sites of the Underground Railroad along with Seneca Falls, which was, essentially, the birthplace of the suffrage movement. The more you know!
6 Honopu Beach - Hawai'i Can Be Cheap, Too
Okay, if any of these are a stretch for an ‘economical’ advantage in our country, this is it. But if you live in Hawai’i, then there aren’t very many options for beautiful locations (oh, wait...). Regardless—Honopu Beach!
This small beach on Kauai’s Na Pali Coast is only accessible via a short swim. The sea cliffs surrounding the beach reach up to over 1,200 feet and there is also a large waterfall right on the other side of the cliffs. Because of its access, it’s a completely free place to visit as long as you’re already in Hawai’i.
5 Carlsbad Cavern - home to the 4,000-foot-long limestone cave
Situated down in the Southwest United States, the Guadalupe Mountains in New Mexico are home to the Carlsbad Cavern National Park. This place is home to the 4,000-foot-long limestone cave, which is easily the parks most popular tourist destination. There are about 26 separate rooms in the caves, many of which are readily accessible to the public.
Check out their website to find tourist information, prices, and to plan a visit to one of the most beautiful and extensive public caves in the world.
4 Door County, WI - Lighthouses, Lighthouses, Lighthouses!
This sparsely-populated county on Wisconsin’s peninsula on Lake Michigan is home to beaches, small towns, lighthouses, and orchards the whole way through. While it is primarily residents-only in the colder months, throughout the summer, the population rises from about 28,000 to nearly 250,000. There are five separate State Parks on the peninsula along with 11 historic lighthouses.
This part of the country makes for a great family vacation spot with ample opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of the peninsula.
3 Mississippi Delta - gorgeous swamplands
Now over to the South, the Mississippi Delta is full of both gorgeous swamplands unlike anywhere else in the world and of extensive historical importance. Of course, there is plenty of great Southern cooking across this area as well. The history of the blues in this part of the country remains deeply important to the tourism industry, meaning that there are plenty of things to see and do.
Each of the towns in the region will have several stops worth going to, making this a perfect place for a road trip.
2 French Quarter, New Orleans - a slice of the Caribbean
The United States is made up of individual places that are unlike anywhere else in the country. New Orleans offers up a slice of the Caribbean that doesn’t require a passport.
The French Quarter of the city is as close as you can get to the food, architecture, and vibe of the Caribbean within the United States, making it definitely worth a visit. One of the best free experiences you can have in the city is the St. Louis Cathedral—the oldest in the United States.
1 Arlington - an important piece of US history
This famous cemetery in Virginia is one of the most important historical places in the entire country. This cemetery has been the resting place of troops since 1864. Several places in the area are now in the National Registry of Historic Places and the 400,000 or so graves are visited by millions every year. Arguably the most important historical site in the country, Arlington Cemetery is a necessary visit for any U.S. road trip.